Friday, July 19, 2019

Abernyte Nature Watch


The wonderful dry summer of 2013 continued well into autumn – but perhaps the adjectives most often used to describe the last winter have been wet, mild and muddy.  Not that it has been very warm, but we hardly had any snow at all.  The lowest temperature we recorded on our thermometer has been -3.5 degrees Celsius, and that only happened once.  

We have hardly seen more than a few flakes of snow and since Christmas wet days have become the norm. Nobody told the stoats that there would be no snow as we saw a handsome stoat in Ermine on our way back from Coupar Angus one day. Despite its miserable dampness, the conditions have probably been good for winter survival of many species which suffer in hard winters. 

There have been some new winged visitors around Abernyte in the form of large black birds with a croak for a voice.  A pair of them were displaying over the Hill in mid-September. 

They have also been slowly appearing elsewhere in the Sidlaws over the last few years.  As birds which are just starting to recover following a long history of persecution, we feel excited to have them back. 

Ravens are such intelligent birds, as those of you who watched Chris Packham’s recent programme “Inside the Animal Mind”will have found out.  Members of the crow family have been tested in their ability to solve puzzles so complicated that they defeat even two and a half year old children.

On October 17th, Diana found a Brambling on the farm, probably recently arrived from Scandinavia.  It has so far been the only Brambling that has been seen in the area.  Like quite a lot of other seed and fruit eating birds Bramblings have been seen much less around bird feeding stations than they were last year.  This is good news for them because it may mean that they’re finding plenty of food out in the wider countryside and not in need of supplementary rations. 

Likewise we have seen rather few Siskins on the bird feeders as compared with last year.   Sometimes the Siskins appear rather late in the Spring though, and there are a few of them around at the moment (9th February).  It’s worth keeping a lookout for these tiny graceful green and yellow birds which look a bit like small greenfinches.

Barry saw his first skein of Pink-footed Geese flying high over Abernyte on the morning of September 23rd.  It was a smallish flock of around 80 individuals, but enough to herald the autumn in. 

These were followed on October 2nd by a sighting of 6 or 7 Fieldfares feeding on stubble.  On 26th October both Fieldfare and Redwing were reaping the benefits of a good Rowan berry crop on the Glebe.  Blackberries, Elderberries and Haws were also plentiful. 

The stubble fields are great for both seed eaters and insectivorous birds to feed on. Fieldfares have been around for much of the winter.  On 20th January we saw a mixed flock of 50 or more Fieldfares and Redwings, this time feeding on hill pasture near the Whitehills Den.  Redwings are easy to recognize if you can get a decent look at them.  They have a bright rusty-red underwing and golden stripe above the eye. 

From 9th-12th January, we did the BTO's "citizen science" early bird survey.  The idea was to :

1. See which birds are the "early birds" at bird feeders. 

2. See how street lighting effected their time of appearance. 

It was quite fun to sit peering into the dark and recording the very earliest birds to appear as day broke.   Day break was about 8 o'clock on the 9th January so although it was necessary to get up  literally for “crack of dawn”, it was not too early.  

I was surprised one morning to see a troop of Long-tailed Tits appear first, as I hadn't ever seen them in the early morning before.  It just shows how much we can miss by not looking at the appropriate time. 

Incidentally, quite a number of people in Abernyte and Kinnaird have been seeing Long-tailed Tits around their feeders during January and February.  On the other mornings when I watched, either a Blackbird, Robin or Blue Tit was the earliest to appear at the feeding station.  

The BTO have released the preliminary results of their survey - Blackbird, Robin and Blue Tit turned out to be the earliest species over the whole of the UK - but they are still working on the analysis of the effect of street lighting on the time their appearance. 

Ian had a lovely view of a Green Woodpecker on the Hill during early January. It is such a beautiful bird and it seems as though the mild weather will be advantageous to its survival this winter. . The "yaffling" call of the Green Woodpecker is fairly easy to recognize - we heard one calling quite close to the village on Tuesday 4th February. 

As well as small flocks (perhaps family parties) of Long-tailed tits, several folk have been seeing Bullfinches around. They are one of the most smartly dressed and beautiful birds. I didn't know until watching "Winterwatch" from Mar Lodge that they feed on heather as well as on various fruits and buds. Unlike many other birds, they eat the seeds and spit out the flesh of berries It’s even worth losing a few buds off the apple trees for the pleasure of seeing their smart black caps and plump pink breasts as they perch high up in the trees around the garden. 

Now it’s early February (9th) and there are plenty of Snowdrops and Aconites in flower around Abernyte. 

Some are in full flower while others, particularly those  in cooler positions, are still in bud.

Some of the first I noticed were the ones at the burnside close to Southfield Bridge. There they have been showing white for a number of weeks now. The aconites in our garden were well out on 2nd February when the sun shone, albeit briefly.

We usually record the first flowering of the Red Campion later in the Spring. It has been so mild this winter that there have been one or two flowers on the Red Campion in our garden all winter long. I don't ever remember this happening before! 

And finally a gentle reminder to post your sightings.  The numbers of postings on the Nature Watch (Community Forum/Nature Watch) have been declining!  Please do put your sightings on there – any observations are of interest.  To post on Nature Watch you just need to go to the Abernyte,org website and register online.  Then you will receive your own password.

What next?  Keep a watch out for the date of Frogs spawning, dates of first nesting events and the imminent arrival of Oystercatchers around the Braes.